Kathmandu, February 25
Visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia Joe Felter today said the US viewed Nepal as an important security partner, with a vital role to play in the region’s stability.
He also made it clear that the Indo-Pacific Strategy was in no way an alliance of countries or about asking Nepal to choose sides. “It is a strategy aimed at building capacity of Nepal to defend its own sovereignty. We want independent, prosperous and security-independent Nepal. That’s our interest. That’s your interest. That’s our shared interest,” he said.
According to Felter, the Indo-Pacific Strategy provides strategic context to decades-long military cooperation between Nepal and the US. “I think it is a recognition that we have shared interests and shared vision for the future of the region. It recognises maintenance of rules-based order where interests and sovereignty of all countries, large and small, are protected,” he said.
Under the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US focuses on working with partners across the region to build their capacity to ensure that their interests are not undermined by any power and that they are protected in a rules-based order by international law, according to Felter.
When asked whether the Indo-Pacific Strategy, as interpreted by some observers, was to counter China’s growing clout in the region, Felter said it was in the interest of all to develop constructive relationship with China. He added that some activities associated with Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative were very much in China’s interest, and not necessarily in the interest of countries associated.
“We welcome a constructive relationship with China. We welcome investment by China as long as that investment is designed to serve the interest of Nepal and not just China,” he said. “We hope China would improve its transparency and the quality of its investments and ensure that its activities are aimed at serving interests of countries like Nepal.”
Felter held meetings with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, Nepali Army CoAS General Purna Chandra Thapa, Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi and Defence Secretary Reshmi Raj Pandey.
He said discussions were focused on military-to-military cooperation, defence cooperation opportunities, civil and military best practices and military professionalisation opportunities.
“As a good partner, we’ve not come here to tell Nepal what we need, but to ask Nepal what it needs and work together to address those needs,” he said. “The purpose of this visit is cooperation based on mutual interest in supporting Nepal’s priorities and aspirations.”
He said the US was also looking forward to partnering with Nepal in its interest in creating a national defence university. He also thanked Nepal for its extraordinary contributions to UN peacekeeping, and added that Nepali forces had well-deserved reputation for professionalism and capabilities.
A version of this article appears in print on February 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.